MISSION: CONNECT WITH MEMORIES

Deadwood, South Dakota: America's first gambling getaway

Okay, let’s be up-front about this: When you come home from a visit to your travel agent with a stack of colorful travel brochures, Deadwood, South Dakota isn't likely to be among them. Even with the popularity of the  eponymous series about this town on HBO that has spurred a new wave of interest in this hotbed of American history, many travelers may have a hard time understanding the appeal of this dusty destination at first glance.

Turns out,  Deadwood has a past richer than a Rockefeller, due in part to the high concentration of gold in the Black Hills and a cast of original American hotheads and certified wild women that would put modern-day Los Angeles to shameand the city does its best to keep that history alive. The dust in the streets vibrates with the unrestrained energy of its most infamous residents, such as Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane. As you walk down Main Street, you might notice the sharp scent of gun powder, a reminder of the old days when a shootout over cheatin', lyin' or both' could occur at any moment. And one glance around at the authentic 19th-century saloons and Western building facades lets you know that this is no Disney recreation. This here's the real McCoy.

While the faithful preservation of this Old West mining town is enough to draw curious visitors who want a glimpse into America's fascinating past, Deadwood wasand still is—a gamblin’ town at its core. Lining Main Street are old-time gambling halls, whose cozy poker rooms filled with brass chandeliers and Western antiques provide a relaxing alternative to the breakneck-paced, neon-drenched halls of Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Plus, nothing says vacation fun like playing cards while sitting next to Wild Bill Hickock’s “death chair” at the very table where he played his final hand before having his head blown off by the cowardly Jack McCauchin at the Old Style Saloon. (If you have any trouble imagining this scene, don’t worryit’s recreated for your convenience four times a day.)

You don’t have to be concerned about losing your head or your shirt these days, howeverDeadwood’s low-stakes gambling rules ($100 is the maximum bet) will help make sure that you arrive home with your valuables intact.

Book yourself into one of Deadwood’s historic hotels to help recreate the past. The Franklin Hotel, which has been a staple on Main Street since 1903, comes fully equipped with modern amenities for your comfort (such as cable TV), but it also continues to offer  such nostalgic features as “fainting room” for light-headed ladies. Also on Main Street is the Bullock Hotel, a beautiful 19th Century hotel with a special featureit’s reportedly haunted by Seth Bullock, the first sheriff of Deadwood and who is reported to mingle with his hotel guests on a regular basis.

When it’s time to eat you’ll find that steak  houses dominate the scene (and take notethe steaks aren’t all from cows…the best-selling dish at actor Kevin Costner’s Deadwood eatery, Jakes, is the buffalo rib-eye). But if meat isn’t your thing, there’s also the highly recommended Oyster Bay Restaurant with an oyster bar and Italian cuisine.

—Douglas Lichterman

Events coming up

September 8-9: The annual Deadwood Jam music festival will be rocking the residents with acts including the Smithereens, Soul Asylum, John Hiatt and the Subdudes.

 

Getting there

Fly to Rapid City Airport in South Dakota. Then rent a car or call Dakota Taxi at (605) 920-2020 for a ride into Deadwood.

 

Can’t make the scene?

You can still get your hands on a piece of the lifeblood of Deadwood: gold that was mined in the historic Black Hills Homestake Gold Mine. This was the largest and most productive mine in South Dakota for 125 years. When it finally closed in 2002, the last pieces of gold removed were put aside for sale to the public. You can tell friends you won it playing crazy-8s in a saloon against a drunken varmint.

Treat yourself: $35 to $150 depending on the weight, Homestakevisitor
center.com

This month, one lucky Four Weeks subscriber will win
a genuine piece of gold
from the Homestake Gold Mine.

Have you subscribed yet? It's free!

  


Photos courtesy of Deadwood Chamber of Commerce

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